Storm in a Teacup

This was a show that Alison Duddle and I initially worked on together. It was 2005, and it was created for the ‘pPod’ tour (see above). I had the idea of basing it on a short Moomintroll story by Tove Jansson, ‘The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters’. I had used this story before, in 1983, as an outdoor puppet show in Needles in a Candleflame. Alison and I worked together to create a version that ended up a long, long way from the original. However the idea of a nervous loner, who spent their whole life fearing the worst but, when a real disaster happens rising admirably to the challenge and as a consequence achieving a kind of release, still underpinned our story. Storm in a Teacup was set in a lighthouse, manned by a lonely and nervous lighthouse keeper. His only friend was an anarchic seagull, although he looked forward obsessively to the monthly visit by the launch. Desperately hoping to build a friendship with the seaman who delivered his supplies.

The original show was not much more than 20 minutes in length. It proved popular and we decided to develop it into something closer to being a full-length show for young people. This process proved surprisingly difficult, and it took a while to get it up to 50 minutes in length (via interim 30 and 40 minute versions). I designed and made the set; Alison made most of the puppets. At first we directed it together, but as version followed version, Alison took on most of the re-writing and re-directing. Sometimes it went out as a masked show, other times it was played unmasked. By the final tour it included a bit of both.

Despite this slightly messy evolution, Storm in a Teacup developed into a good small-scale production. It toured on and off for the next 5 or 6 years. Its popularity was helped by great performances from Jonny Quick (as the supply seaman) and Mark Whitaker (the lighthouse keeper) who both created memorably eccentric characters.

Red Riding Hood

We wanted to follow this with another children’s show. Alison was particularly keen on creating a series of shows based on traditional stories, and she decided on Red Riding Hood. One argument for doing this was that audiences were more likely to go to a show that they had heard of, than something new and unknown. Alison then wrote a treatment of Red Riding Hood that was atmospheric, quirky and constantly surprising. We decided that she should direct the production and make most of the puppets. I provided support as necessary, including designing and making the set. I also worked with Vanessa Card on several short filmed animations that were interspersed throughout the story.

Again, like Storm in a Teacup this turned out to be a very popular production. Also like Storm, it toured on and off for several years.

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. dir. Alison Duddle.

Review
Horse and Bamboo Theatre: Red Riding Hood The Boo, Rossendale. 12 December 2011 Reviewed by Beccy Smith

Horse and Bamboo’s first foray into the adaptation of a classic fairytale revels in a delicious combination of the scary and the playful. Drawing from the tale’s rich history and multiple readings, including the Norse myth of spring’s escape from winter’s jaws (in which the Little Red’s red hood represents the stolen sun), Alison Duddle’s treatment steps delicately amongst various interpretations to create a deceptively simple telling that nonetheless resonates with symbolism and menace.

The two performers, Jonny Quick and Frances Merriman, are the anchors that carry us through the production’s diverse storytelling approaches and techniques. Jonny is always hungry – the show almost doesn’t begin as he wants to nip out for a sausage roll, whilst Frances is excited to share her collection of all things red. Her most treasured possession: a tasty pink-iced bun become an edible symbol of the protagonist (that) she puppets, it’s delicious demise threatened, or promised, from the start. These two characters and their careful positioning in-between the dramatic and storytelling worlds offered an easy point of entry to the material and to the performance’s conventions.

The production moved easily between miniature theatre, mask work, rod puppetry, shadow, film, song and storytelling: it offered a wonderful introduction to some of the pleasures and surprises of visual theatre (of which for me the company’s mask work begins to feel the most staid). These shifts in mode allowed the story at times to touch on the real darkness of the fairytale’s threat. As an echoing sound effect that far out-scales the apparent safety of a miniature home where Red Riding Hood is tucked up in bed, or an unseen animated shadow trailing her through the woods and able to completely disappear behind trees, the wolf exudes genuine menace which sent children scurrying back to their seats (Loz Kaye’s score really contributed to the creeping sense of horror). As Jonny Quick with a wiggly extended furry nose gleefully stuffing a cake into his mouth the menace was contained, though perhaps more performatively subversive in its implications.

All in all, this was a thoughtful, exciting and playful production. Playing to sell-out audiences in the company’s own venue, The Boo, which hasn’t long been able to offer public performances, Little Red Riding is a wonderful offer to local Lancashire audiences. Horse and Bamboo are to be congratulated for demonstrating just what a rich and welcoming experience visual theatre can offer to new audiences.

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Bob Frith founded Horse + Bamboo Theatre in 1978. He now manages the Dave Pearson Studio and is active in support of Apna Rossendale.

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